INDIANAPOLIS – When Jonathan Byrd II envisioned the possibility of bringing dirt-track racing back to the Indianapolis metro area, he saw it as a way for the city to reconnect with its racing roots.
After all, ESPN’s popular Thursday Night Thunder television series from the 1980s and ’90s began largely in the Circle City, with racing at the paved Indianapolis Speedrome featured alongside several Hoosier State dirt tracks.
However, the execution of Byrd’s vision was all about the timing of the deal.
Byrd had broached the idea of running a dirt race at the “back track” of the Marion County Fairgrounds in 2016, but those conversations – and his family’s involvement in motorsports – stalled after the death of multi-time USAC champion Bryan Clauson, who was backed by the Byrd family before his passing.
Five years later, and with an established tenure as the general manager for the Speedrome in his back pocket, Byrd felt the opportunity was right to rekindle the dirt discussion.
“Back in 2015 and ’16, when we got re-involved in dirt racing with Bryan, he and Lauren (Stewart, Clauson’s then-fiancee) promoted the Shamrock Classic at DuQuoin, and all I could think was, ‘You know, I want to be able to promote a midget race,’” Byrd told Sprint Car & Midget in an exclusive interview. “I love midget racing, and I had talked to the old owners of the Speedrome about the possibility of me renting out the facility to either run a dirt-track race or figure out how to make dirt midgets on pavement work out again. I’d had a connection with the old board president of the Marion County Fairgrounds, and I approached them in 2016 and said, ‘Hey, I’d love to talk about this idea that I have.’
“The back track there at the time was the perfect size for a midget race, but there was really no infrastructure for something like that at that point,” Byrd noted. “I was thinking tents and temporary (facilities) and lots of Port-A-Potties – where there’s a will, there’s a way – but there was also a whole bunch of stuff that needed to be done to really make it a proper race track with safety and everything. It could have happened five years ago, but I just didn’t have the financial wherewithal at that point, and then the racing stuff got paused when we lost Bryan.
“Kevin (Garrigus, Indianapolis Speedrome owner) and I had broached the subject of a dirt track in the past, as far as what it would take and where would it be and what would work, and I told him I’d had the idea five years ago to do a track at the Marion County Fairgrounds, and that I could try to open up those discussions again to see if everybody would be interested in doing something. Little did we know, at that time, that they had had a discussion already among the board (members) and wanted to reach out to our group at the Speedrome about us taking over the promotion and ownership of the back track there at the fairgrounds. That evolved into building a new track, and that’s how Circle City Raceway was born.
“The timing was serendipitous, more than anything.”
Circle City Raceway will feature a quarter-mile dirt oval, with seating potential for as many as 5,000 fans at full grandstand capacity. Byrd was also quick to point out that the track is not a short-term project.
“We intend to be here for a while,” he said. “We have a 15-year contract with a 15-year option on our lease at the Marion County Fairgrounds … and we have some very favorable terms, but we are also investing hundreds of thousands of dollars into this project. It’s going to take a while to get that return on investment. But in the meantime, my view is that if we’re going to do something, let’s do it right.
“Getting back into watching dirt racing over the past few years, I just loved the bullrings, the small little race tracks that are conducive to midget racing,” Byrd continued. “But I thoroughly enjoyed what the (World of) Outlaws did at Kokomo last October as well. There is a void in the Indiana marketplace, and I really want our bread and butter to be winged 410 (sprint car) racing. I think it’s going to be well-received.
“We have so many (sprint car) teams based in Indianapolis, and they have to travel three or four hours on a fairly regular basis to race. Now, they’re going to be 15 or 20 minutes away from a track they can race at nine times next year. It’s a cool opportunity, I think.”